A shot in the arm for flu protection: NPS MedicineWise

17 April 2013

With winter approaching, NPS MedicineWise is reminding Australians that anyone can catch the flu (influenza) — and that having the flu vaccination is the single best way to protect against the infection, and its potential complications.

NPS MedicineWise clinical adviser Dr Philippa Binns says that it is especially important for people at risk of the complications of the flu to be vaccinated.

“We’re urging people who are most at risk to have the flu vaccination this autumn, because influenza can lead to serious complications, including pneumonia,” says Dr Binns.

“We know that every year in Australia, it is estimated there are about 1,500-2,500 influenza-related deaths, and up to 18,000 people hospitalised with influenza. Those at risk include people who are 65 years or older, pregnant women, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are 15 years or older, people who are obese, and those with a pre-existing medical condition such as a weakened immune system, diabetes, lung disease, heart disease, or chronic neurological conditions.”

The flu vaccine is available free, through the National Immunisation Program, for more than 5 million Australians who are more at risk of severe disease. A health professional can tell you if you are eligible for a free flu vaccine.

In addition, vaccination against the flu is recommended for anyone older than 6 months who wants to be protected and is particularly important for those who care for people at increased risk of complications to prevent passing on the infection to them.

The 2013 flu vaccine for Australia is different from the 2012 vaccine, and includes the most common flu virus strains that are causing infection around the world this year.

“People who were vaccinated in 2012 still need to be vaccinated again this year to ensure protection against the flu strains that are causing infection this flu season,” says Dr Binns.

Dr Binns also clarified that the flu vaccine can be given to pregnant and breastfeeding women and that there are flu vaccines that are specifically for children.

“Flu vaccines can indeed be used during pregnancy, and given at any stage of pregnancy, and will also protect your baby for about 6 months after birth. There’s no known risk to your baby if you are vaccinated with the flu vaccine while you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

“It’s also important for parents to know that there are several brands of flu vaccines that can be given to eligible children aged 6 months or older. Recent safety studies have found that there are no specific concerns associated with using these specific vaccines in children. But some brands should only be used for adults, so people should always talk to their doctor if they have any questions or concerns.”

  • To read more about the influenza vaccine, including who is most at risk of flu, visit www.nps.org.au/fluvaccine
  • For more information on prescription, over-the-counter and complementary medicines (herbal, ‘natural’, vitamins and minerals) from a health professional, call NPS Medicines Line on 1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424) . Hours of operation are Monday–Friday 9am–5pm AEST (excluding public holidays).
  • If you’re concerned that you or your child may have had side effects related to a vaccine, seek medical advice. To report and discuss possible side effects, call the Adverse Medicines Events (AME) Line on 1300 134 237 from anywhere in Australia (Monday–Friday, 9am–5pm AEST).


Independent, evidence-based and not-for-profit, NPS MedicineWise enables better decisions about medicines and medical tests. We are funded by the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing.

Media enquiries: Stephanie Childs on 02 8217 8667, 0419 618 365 or schilds@nps.org.au or Erin Jardine on (02) 8217 8733 or ejardine@nps.org.au